A key issue for herbal products manufacturers is ensuring that retailers have all the information they need to sell their products successfully. This effort can take the form of educational materials and company-sponsored trainings, but clear packaging and labeling also play an important role. With so many brands competing for shelf space, the quality inside the bottle or package is only one ingredient for long-term success.
?Marketing herbs to make them more user-friendly is a tough one,? in part because of the labeling restrictions put in place by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which limit the claims for and descriptions of the products, said Peter Littell, marketing consultant for Williams, Ore.-based Herb Pharm. ?A few years ago, we redid our logo to expand the name and changed our packaging to make it more uniform and easier to find information,? he said.
Herb Pharm also provides stores with ?info shades? that attach to store shelves and can be pulled down like a retractable blind to access product information. ?They give a clear rationale for why herbal extracts are effective,? Littell said.
Ed Smith, HerbPharm?s founder and co-owner, is enthused about a new packaging option—a hard plastic case that holds up to six liquid extracts and allows the user to read the labels without opening the package. ?I travel in some tough places, like the Amazon,? he said. ?I was looking for the perfect way to carry and store extracts, but these are also great for organizing at home.? Consumers can buy the empty packs with suggested herbal combos, and soon the company will prepackage six themed extracts together—for example, an athletic pack, a first-aid pack and a travel-related pack.
New technology provides educational opportunities that never existed before. ?We?re using more and more streaming audio on www.herb-pharm.com, so retailers can click on a link and hear anywhere from a 5- to a 30-minute presentation,? Smith said. ?It?s so convenient for people to go on the Web or pop in a DVD, with the option of multimedia presentations.?
WishGarden Herbals of Boulder, Colo., also has begun marketing herbal combinations. ?We pick items that group around a particular theme,? said Catherine Hunziker, the company?s owner and formulator. ?We have a winter wellness kit, a pregnancy kit, a new mother?s kit and a detox kit for springtime, when everyone wants to cleanse.?
Even if such packaging doesn?t generate huge sales, it can be an effective way to make products stand out on a crowded shelf. ?The selection can be overwhelming, so when you put together something that?s visually attractive, people take a look at it,? Hunziker said. ?We also discount our individual formulas steeply when we package them together.? Because it has such a wide range of products, the company is developing a Web site, www.wishgardenherbals.com, to offer both retailers and consumers a look at its full line.
Paying attention to the needs of particular stores is important to success, especially for smaller companies that can offer products tailor-made for specific markets. ?I would talk to people on the store floor,? Hunziker said. ?What are they presenting? How are they shifting focus in regard to the seasons? Seasonal focus is key; retain the flexibility to change your product mix.?
Offering clear and informative labeling may be the best move a company can make, according to Kat Oldfield, nutritional consultant at Whole Foods Market in Boulder, Colo. ?User-friendly packaging is definitely a huge plus,? she said. ?Instead of selling something called bitters or neutralizing cordial, call it digest herbal, or give consumers an indication of what it?s intended to do. That not only helps identify the remedy, it improves its action, because when the customer makes the mind-body connection and understands what the formula?s action is, it helps the remedy work.?
Oldfield said that although combination packaging can be successful, it?s the exception rather than the rule when such products become big sellers. ?It seems like a good idea, but in reality most consumers would rather buy individual remedies than purchase things that may not have much to do with what?s going on with their health at that moment.?
Manufacturers who have been most successful are those with a narrowly targeted package. ?One exception that really seems to work is an earache formula that has an ear oil shrink-wrapped [along with] an internal formula,? Oldfield said. ?It deals with the problem both internally and topically, and it makes sense to the customer to hit the problem from two angles.? A similar product that has sold well, Oldfield said, is a combination of topical arnica gel with homeopathic arnica tablets.
Though there is no single approach that guarantees success, savvy manufacturers combine clear and informative labeling, educational literature and timely, well-packaged products in order to stand out from the crowded field.
Mitchell Clute is a free-lance writer, musician and poet in Crestone, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 6/p. 52-53